How Sebastian Got Its Name

by Daniel Clark
c 1998 North Indian River County Library

In east central Turkey, on the Kizil Irmak River, lies the city of Siva. Two thousand years ago Turkey was Asia Minor, and the city was called Sebastia.

Even earlier, it was known as Diospolis - "City of Zeus." They spoke Greek there. Then the Romans took charge. It was time to shift allegiance to a new god. They turned away from Zeus and bowed to Caesar Augustus.

Translating Augustus into Greek, they came up with Sebastos - "great," "magnificent," "revered." Thence Sebastia, the city of the revered one.

In the third century AD, a young man from Sebastia joined the Roman army. His name is lost. All we know is he was called Sebastian, the man from Sebastia. He converted to Christianity. And met the fate of many a Christian. His fellow officers shot him full of arrows as he prayed. The martyr was later canonized as Saint Sebastian.

In the seventeenth century, Spanish explorers sailing along our long lagoon (they called it Rio d'Ays after the local Ays people) spied a river emptying into it. It probably was the feast day of St. Sebastian. They named the river after the martyr.

Later, the British went along with that. St. Sebastian River it was - and is.

As Europeans and Americans settled just south of the river, a naming process for the place began. The first postmaster, a Rev. New, decided on New Haven. This burst of vainglory was squelched by the second postmaster. He took the river's name and gave it to the village. Thus Sebastian, Florida was born.

For more than 2000 years, the Turkish city has enjoyed importance as a political and commercial center. Today you can buy beautiful rugs there. Our Sebastian is only a hundred years old. What will it be like after its own twenty centuries of history?